How Yankees outfielder Clint Frazier became MLB’s king of custom cleats Fear of Gods, Space Jams, Travis Scotts — Frazier has worn them all and more on the filed to bring some swag to baseball

The night before a game against the Boston Red Sox in mid-April, Clint Frazier might as well have been a kid picking his outfit for the first day of school.

The 24-year-old New York Yankees outfielder wanted to look fresh for the first series of the 2019 Major League Baseball season between the two rival teams. He specifically envisioned pairing Yankees pinstripes with one of his favorite pairs of sneakers, the Nigel Sylvester Air Jordan 1s. But to take the baseball field in basketball shoes, Frazier needed some help. So he sent the Jordans to Anthony Ambrosini, founder and owner of Custom Cleats Inc., who’s been converting basketball and lifestyle sneakers into wearable footwear for grass and turf for 15 years.

“I texted Clint saying I got them,” Ambrosini recalled, “and he said, ‘Can you have them for me for the game tomorrow?’ … I told him, ‘It’s 10 o’clock at night, and I haven’t even started them.’ ” Yet Frazier pleaded, and Ambrosini obliged. He went into his Long Island, New York, shop after hours and added metal spikes to the bottoms of the shoes. By the next day, they’d make it to Yankee Stadium, ready for Frazier to lace up before the game.

In the bottom of the fourth inning of the Yankees’ 8-0 win over the Red Sox on April 16 — when the two teams partook in the league’s annual celebration of Jackie Robinson Day — Frazier launched a 354-foot home run to right-center field, with Robinson’s No. 42 on the back of his uniform and Nigel Sylvester 1s on his feet. It had to be the shoes, right?

“Look good, feel good. Feel good, play good. Play good, get paid good,” said Frazier, paraphrasing the timeless saying from the great Deion Sanders. “I’m trying to do all those.”

That’s certainly been the motto for the Yankees phenom. In the first few months of the season, Frazier has become Major League Baseball’s king of custom cleats. In 39 games, he’s worn 13 different pairs — from Air Jordan 6s to high- and low-top Air Jordan 11s, Nike Fear of Gods and Air Force 1s, as well as multiple models of his most beloved sneaker, the Air Jordan 1. All of his cleats have been converted by Ambrosini, marking a partnership that’s really only just beginning.

“My goal is to have as many pairs of custom cleats as I can over the 162-game season,” said Frazier, who’s batting .270 with 10 home runs and 28 RBIs. “I’m trying to bring a little swagger to baseball.”


With the fifth overall pick in the 2013 MLB first-year player draft, the Cleveland Indians selected the then-18-year-old Frazier out of Loganville High School, near his hometown of Decatur, Georgia. Frazier, who was named the Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year during his senior season, had already committed to play at the University of Georgia. Yet he decided to sign with the Indians and go straight from high school to the big leagues.

Frazier wouldn’t make his MLB debut until July 1, 2017, less than a year after being traded from Cleveland to New York and emerging as the No. 1 prospect in the Yankees organization. He spent his first season in the majors endorsed by Under Armour before Adidas signed him in 2018. Heading into his third MLB season, Frazier was due for a change.

“I dropped my contract with Adidas,” Frazier said, “and told myself I was just gonna go the solo route and convert shoes into cleats.”

Frazier could’ve bought pairs of Air Jordan 11 cleats that debuted in 2018. He also could’ve waited until late March, right before the start of MLB’s regular season, when the Jordan Brand dropped a collection of Air Jordan 1 cleats. But what he truly sought was the liberty to wear whatever he wanted on the field. Frazier was anxious to start commissioning conversions. He just had to find someone capable of transforming any sneaker he imagined into a cleat. In mid-February, three days before Yankees position players were scheduled to report to the team’s spring training facility in Tampa, Florida, he took to Twitter in search of a customizer:

Most of the replies pointed Frazier in the direction of Custom Cleats, and one of his teammates specifically referred him to the company’s owner. Coming off double-heel surgery in 2018, veteran Yankees shortstop Troy Tulowitzki had Ambrosini make him pairs of LeBron James’ signature Nikes that proved to be more comfortable to wear than traditional cleats as he recovered from the injury.

“Troy took those LeBrons to spring training, and I guess Clint saw them,” said Ambrosini, who began making cleats in the early 2000s while playing in the minor leagues within the Montreal Expos organization. The first pair he converted was Kobe Bryant’s Nike Huaraches for his younger brother and Class A teammate, Dominick Ambrosini, a sixth-round draft pick by the Expos in 1999. Now the elder Ambrosini does custom baseball and golf cleats for athletes all across the country, including Chicago Cubs All-Stars Anthony Rizzo and Jon Lester, retired seven-time Cy Young Award-winning pitcher Roger Clemens and future first-ballot Basketball Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. Business is booming at Custom Cleats Inc., which boasts 100,000 followers on the company’s Instagram page.

“I got a text from Tulowitzki’s agent,” Ambrosini continued, “letting me know that Clint was gonna give me a call.”

Frazier’s first commission was a pair of “Shadow” Air Jordan 1s that he wanted to wear in spring training. Ambrosini completed the conversion and shipped the shoes down to Florida. Frazier was so excited once they arrived that he sprinted from the mailroom of George M. Steinbrenner Field into the Yankees’ clubhouse to open the package. Ambrosini had passed Frazier’s test. And the focus shifted to what he’d wear during the regular season.

“I don’t think anybody knew how serious I was about trying to make this a real thing,” Frazier said. “I told Anthony, ‘Look, man. This is kind of my vision. I want to make this into something big. I want to continue to send you a bunch of shoes to make into cleats throughout the year.’ ”

Their system is simple: Frazier cops size 10.5s in the dopest kicks he can find and sends them to Ambrosini, who replaces the rubber soles on each pair of shoes with custom-manufactured spiked cleat bottoms. He can turn around a sneaker in less than a day before having it hand-delivered to Yankee Stadium or shipped out to Frazier if the team is on the road.

“We kicked around ideas about shoes we wanted to do. One night, Clint called me from Flight Club,” said Ambrosini of the popular sneaker boutique in New York City’s East Village. “He was on the phone like, ‘Yo, man. What shoes should I get? I’m staring at all these shoes. There’s so many options, I don’t know what to pick.’ I’m like, ‘Just pick something that you love, that’s comfortable and that’s got the colors that you can wear.’ ”

Clint Frazier of the New York Yankees in action against the Kansas City Royals at Yankee Stadium on April 20. The Yankees defeated the Royals 9-2.

Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

That’s right: Frazier has to remain compliant with the MLB uniform guidelines. He hasn’t run into any trouble so far, although he’s broken out all different kinds of flavors with his cleats. Frazier made his season debut on April 2 in a pair of “Olympic” Air Jordan 6s. He hit his first home run of the year on the road against the Baltimore Orioles wearing those “Shadow” 1s from spring training. A day later, still at Camden Yards in Baltimore wearing the Shadows, he went deep twice in one game.

“It almost felt like whenever I wore a new pair of cleats, I’d hit a home run,” Frazier said. “That’s why I was breaking out different shoes. I was like, ‘Damn, man. I just hit a home run in all of them.’ ”

His next homer came against the Red Sox in the Nigel Sylvester 1s. Last year, Queens, New York, native and professional BMX rider Nigel Sylvester collaborated with Jordan Brand for his own edition of the Air Jordan 1. Frazier loves that shoe so much that he has two pairs: one that he wears off the field and another that he got converted into cleats. Sylvester had never seen or heard of the flashy, red-haired Yankees outfielder until the night his friend sent him a random direct message: “Yo! I’m at the game and homie is wearing your shoes as cleats.” Sylvester was flattered by the gesture.

“Being a New York City kid, I definitely have a spot in my heart for the Yankees,” Sylvester said. “To see Clint hit a home run and run the bases in my shoe — bro, it was so crazy. Definitely a moment in my career I will never, ever forget. … He’s brought a level of excitement to the game that’s needed. … At the end of the day, he’s being creative, and I always respect creativity, especially on such a big stage.”

The day after the game, Sylvester showed Frazier some love on Instagram, and designer Jerry Lorenzo (the son of former MLB player and manager Jerry Manuel) commented on the post. Similar to Sylvester’s collaboration with the Jordan Brand, Lorenzo, founder of the stylish streetwear label Fear of God, has teamed up with Nike for two collections of his own sneakers. Frazier saw Lorenzo’s comment and slyly replied, “I got something for u on Friday.”

That Friday, April 19, Frazier whipped out a pair of the Nike Air Fear of God Shoot Around. Oh, and the heat didn’t stop there. He’s also worn a collection of Air Jordan 11s in the “Win like ’82,’ ” “Space Jam” and low-top “Navy Snakeskin” colorways. Two weeks before the release of the “Cap and Gown” Air Jordan 13s, Frazier had them on his feet in the batter’s box.

“Clint definitely represents the hypebeast culture as far as style,” Ambrosini said. “That’s what makes him stand out so much. He’s so in tune with the awesomeness of all the sneakers that are out, and he’s not afraid to get out there and wear them. There’s a lot of guys I do conversions for that at first glance you really can’t tell it was a sneaker — it blends in so much with the uniform. … But Clint is finding the coolest shoes. … They’re so sick and they stand out so much that that’s what’s making him stand out too.”

Frazier has even paid homage to a true Yankees legend with pairs of Derek Jeter’s “Re2pect” Air Jordan 1s and low-top Air Jordan 11s. In 1998, shortly after the official launch of the Jordan Brand, Jeter became the first baseball player to be endorsed by Jordan. Now, 11 active players represent the Jordan Brand in Major League Baseball: New York Yankees pitcher Dellin Betances, Boston Red Sox outfielder Mookie Betts, St. Louis Cardinals outfielder Dexter Fowler, Milwaukee Brewers pitcher Gio Gonzalez, Yankees outfielder Aaron Hicks, Los Angeles Dodgers closer Kenley Jansen, San Diego Padres infielder Manny Machado, Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina, Boston Red Sox pitcher David Price, Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia and Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Taijuan Walker.

Three of Frazier’s teammates are Jordan guys, and 11 of his 13 pairs of custom cleats are Air Jordans. But landing an endorsement deal isn’t necessarily on his mind.

Clint Frazier of the New York Yankees bats during a game against the Baltimore Orioles at Camden Yards in Baltimore on April 4.

Rob Tringali/SportsChrome/Getty Images

“Jordan is my favorite brand,” Frazier said. “I obviously would love to be a part of the brand one day, but I also don’t want to lose my independence or my freedom with the ability to wear whatever cleat I wanna wear.”

Instead, Frazier has modeled his movement after another athlete who’s embraced not having a shoe contract: veteran Houston Rockets forward and NBA sneaker king P.J. Tucker.

“I’m not a huge basketball guy, but I know who P.J. Tucker is from the buzz he’s created because of all the shoes he’s wearing,” Frazier said. “That was kind of my goal, to build off of his platform. In baseball, we don’t have a lot of guys that have done this.”

No shoe deal means Frazier has an expensive hobby — especially if he’s doubling and tripling up on pairs of certain sneakers to wear off the field, during batting practice and in a cleated version during games. Frazier is definitely a sneakerhead, although his collection isn’t as big as you’d think. “I probably have 50 to 60 pairs,” he said. “But that’s gonna continue to grow — I know that. And I know my cleats collection is gonna probably be bigger than my actual shoe collection.”

Inside the Yankees’ clubhouse this season, a few of Frazier’s teammates call him “Canal Street Clint.” It’s a notorious nickname due to the reputation of that area of New York City. Basically, Canal is the mecca of knockoff designer merchandise, a place you go to find cheap Louis Vuitton, Gucci, Prada and more, albeit fake or counterfeited. Frazier doesn’t shop there, but he earned the moniker because what he plays in aren’t real cleats made for baseball. But they’re real to him, and the people who’ve taken notice: clubhouse attendants from opposing teams who come to his locker asking if they can see a few of his pairs, pitchers and catchers he spots staring at his feet, and even the dudes whose shoes he’s wearing.

“Guys have worn dope a– shoes on the diamond, but the way that Clint’s doing it, it’s kinda crazy,” Sylvester said. “He’s flipping shoes that aren’t meant to be cleats into cleats. Which is so dope.”

Despite the jokes, Frazier plans to keep the customs coming.

“I’m creating a new wave of style in baseball,” he said over the phone from a West Coast road trip in late April, two days after suffering a Grade 2 left ankle sprain with two partially torn ligaments. The injury kept him off the field for 11 games. But when he returned in the second week of May, of course he did so in style.

Frazier debuted five pairs in seven days, including superstar rapper Travis Scott’s “Sail” Nike Air Force 1s and his new Air Jordan 1s, perhaps the most hyped sneaker release of the year. On Twitter, Scott gave Frazier his stamp of approval.

For a game on Mother’s Day, Frazier and Ambrosini teamed up with famed sneaker artist Dan “Mache” Gamache for a pair of custom-painted Air Jordan 1 cleats, featuring his mom’s two cats.

In late May, Ambrosini shared a photo of his latest creation: a pair of suede “Cool Grey” Kaws x Air Jordan 4s, which dropped in March 2017 for $350 but have skyrocketed in value and now resell on GOAT in a size 10.5 for $1,435. The caption on the post read, “Tag someone that might take @kaws to the diamond.” Of course, most people shouted out Frazier, including Houston Astros outfielder Derek Fisher, who commented, “@clintfrazierr might be the only one insane enough.”

And Frazier responded, confirming everyone’s inkling.

“What if i told you those are mine,” Frazier wrote under the comment, “i just haven’t worn them yet?”

The plan: Debut the Kaws 4s at Yankee Stadium when the Red Sox are in town this week. For a four-game series against Boston, it was only right that he broke out a fresh new pair of custom cleats.

But with four months left in the season, the question is, what else does Clint Frazier have in his bag?

“I’ve got some stuff in the works,” he said. “Just keep watching.”

Cardinals QB Kyler Murray might just be Nike’s next NFL superstar athlete Partnership with Nike offers endless marketing possibilities for the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 NFL draft

NEW YORK — Kyler Murray beat one of the best marketing departments in the world to the punch.

Last November, in the thick of his Heisman Trophy-winning season at the University of Oklahoma, the 21-year-old phenom quarterback posted a photo on his social media accounts so recognizable that it didn’t need a caption. Murray re-created Bo Jackson’s iconic 1989 Nike ad down to every detail — the marbled backdrop, flexed muscles, shoulder pads and a wooden baseball bat propped up on strong shoulders.

In a creative way, Murray illustrated the undeniable connection between him and Jackson, two generational dual-sport athletes. Jackson is the only player in history to be named an All-Star in football and baseball, having played in both the NFL and Major League Baseball from 1986 to 1994 (three years before Murray was born). Yet, unlike Jackson, who became the face of Nike’s cross-training division in the late 1980s surrounding the launch of the brand’s timeless “Just Do It” campaign, Murray decided to focus on one sport. “The young man from Oklahoma,” Jackson said in January, “should just go with his heart.”

He ultimately chose football despite being selected as an outfielder by the Oakland Athletics with the No. 9 overall pick in the 2018 MLB draft. Murray agreed to a contract with the club that included a reported $4.66 million signing bonus and permission to play football at Oklahoma for one more year. During the 2018 college football season, he started at quarterback in all 14 games for the Sooners, hoisted the Heisman after throwing for 4,361 yards and 42 touchdowns and leading the team to the College Football Playoff. A month after declaring for the NFL draft, Murray took to Twitter to announce that he’d be “fully committing” his life and time to being a pro quarterback.

On the eve of the draft, before the Arizona Cardinals selected Murray with the top pick, Nike made it official, signing the dual-threat quarterback from Bedford, Texas, along with 26 players (and counting) as part of the brand’s 2019 class of NFL rookies. At Oklahoma, Murray wore Nike on both the baseball diamond and gridiron, before the school’s football program switched to Jordan Brand uniforms last year. In celebration of the new partnership, Murray rocked a Great Gatsby-themed 1-of-1 pair of Air Jordan 1 lows onstage at the draft, featuring “Nike K1″ on the tongues of each shoe.

“We admire the energy and commitment that Kyler Murray brings to the game on and off the field, and we’re excited to welcome him and the entire rookie class to the Nike family,” a brand spokesperson told The Undefeated. “We feel strongly that their dedication to the game will continue to inspire the next generation of athletes.”

Roughly 40 percent of the players in the NFL are endorsed by the multibillion-dollar sportswear company. And now Nike might just have its next superstar athlete in Murray. Within several hours after the announcement that he’d been signed, Murray appeared in his first Nike commercial — a one-minute spot depicting his journey from playing three sports as a kid to reaching the NFL.

“I think he’ll understand once he gets an opportunity to be on Nike’s campus, all the things that will be afforded to him,” free agent and five-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh told The Undefeated at Nike’s New York headquarters ahead of the draft. “The most important thing I would tell him is, ‘Just go out there and focus on your task at hand with being a professional, and everything else will fall in line for you.’ ”

Suh’s evaluation of the young, highly touted quarterback? “He’s definitely elusive and very athletic,” Suh said. “I haven’t had a chance to truly watch him play. Maybe this year I’ll have an opportunity to hit him.”

Detroit Lions cornerback Darius Slay, another Nike athlete, has watched Murray quite a bit. And the two-time Pro Bowler and 2017 first-team All-Pro selection is already impressed.

“I think he’s gonna be a killer in this league,” Slay told The Undefeated. “I can just see his competitiveness — how he operates, how he carries himself … He’s a baseball guy, so you know he got a strong arm. And the thing about baseball players is they got great vision. To see that little ball, hit that little ball and catch that little ball at a fast pace. How this game is … I think it’s made for him.”

“Honestly, I want to be the best that ever played the game.” — Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray

The 5-foot-10, 207-pound Murray reminds Slay of two veteran NFL quarterbacks. “He’s a more athletic Drew Brees,” Slay said, “and you can see him as the next Russell Wilson.”

Wilson — who just became the highest-paid player in the NFL after signing a four-year, $140 million contract extension with the Seattle Seahawks — is also endorsed by Nike. He and Cleveland Browns wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. are the only Nike athletes in the NFL to have their own cleats and signature lifestyle shoes. In 2017, after Beckham Jr. signed the richest NFL shoe deal in history, Nike delivered the Special Field Air Force-1 Mid “OBJ.” He also recently teased another signature sneaker that’s on the way. And on the red carpet at the 2018 ESPYS, the Seahawks star debuted his Nike Dangeruss Wilson 1. Maybe Murray will eventually join Beckham and Wilson and get the Nike signature treatment.

“He’s gonna have his own shoe,” Slay said, “sooner or later.”

Until then, the ads will keep coming — only now he has a brand behind him to do them. The marketing possibilities surrounding Murray already seem fruitful, especially if he lives up to the dream he shared in his debut Nike commercial.

“Honestly,” Murray said. “I want to be the best that ever played the game.”

Darius Miles and Quentin Richardson — on friendship, Clippers days, and Team Jordan Nearly 20 years after the ‘Knuckleheads’ were drafted together, the NBA vets have a hit podcast

Editor’s note: This story contains explicit language.

Right now, the Los Angeles Clippers are battling the reigning champion Golden State Warriors in the first round of 2019 NBA playoffs — despite being projected before the season to win just 20 games. Expectations weren’t high for the Clippers at the start of the 2000-01 season, either. Back then, on paper, the Clippers were the worst in the NBA.

“Led by the 19-year-old Darius Miles, the Clippers could be one of two things” read the final sentence of a New York Times’ NBA season preview, “one of the league’s most exciting young teams or a maddening bunch of knuckleheads still trying to learn the game.”

In June 2000, the Clippers had drafted Miles, a 6-foot-9-inch forward, out of high school with the No. 3 overall pick. Fifteen selections later, the Clippers took Quentin Richardson, a sophomore swingman from DePaul University. The two shared the same home state — Richardson a native of Chicago, and Miles from the streets of East St. Louis, Illinois. They’d known each other since they were kids. And in Los Angeles, they became “The Knuckleheads” — a duo recognized across the league by their on-court celebration of two taps to the head with balled-up fists.

Michael Jordan looked at us like … ‘Why y’all got all this AND1 stuff on?’”

In their only two seasons together with the Clippers, Miles and Richardson emerged as a cultural phenomenon. Michael Jordan handpicked the two phenoms to endorse his brand, and spoiled them with every pair of Air Jordans imaginable. They appeared on magazine covers, and made cameos together in films and on television shows. And both players had the respect of the early-2000s community of hip-hop. “For a minute there, we really were the culture,” Miles wrote in a first-person essay for The Players’ Tribune, published in October 2018 and guest-edited by none other than Richardson.

Now, nearly two decades after being drafted together, Miles and Richardson are the retired NBA veterans with their own podcast. Of course, it’s called Knuckleheads, and just nine episodes in after its February debut, it has a 4.9 rating out of 5 on iTunes.

In the spirit of the podcast — which has produced unfiltered interviews with NBA stars from Allen Iverson and Gary Payton to J.R. Smith, Kyrie Irving and Kevin Durant — The Undefeated chopped it up with The Knuckleheads about everything from the night they were drafted, to the sneakers they wore in the league and the journey of their friendship.

Quentin Richardson (left) and Darius Miles (right) attend Players’ Night Out 2018 hosted by The Players’ Tribune on July 17, 2018, in Studio City, California.

Leon Bennett/Getty Images for The Players' Tribune


How did you two meet?

D-Miles: AAU ball brought us together …

QR: Many years ago.

D-Miles: Q’s AAU coach came down to Southern Illinois …

QR: Larry Butler

D-Miles: … Yeah, Butler was looking for players to play in a ‘spotlight’ he was having. It was the top Illinois players from the state. We’d come down and play in … kinda like a camp … When I came down, that was the first time I saw who Q was … When Larry saw how good I was, he invited me to a tournament and had me play [on his team] two grades above me. He had me playing with Q and them.

QR: Me and D-Miles hit it off from there. Once he began playing AAU with us and would come to Chicago, he would normally stay at my house. He would stay the weekend, and that’s how we got tight.

We were Allen Iverson’s babies. We were A.I.’s lil bros. That was the culture.”

Fast-forward to the 2000 NBA draft. Was there any idea that you’d both get picked by the Los Angeles Clippers?

D-Miles: We were going through the draft process together. But we never thought it would be a possibility to play on the same team … We didn’t even want to go to the Clippers…I don’t think anybody wanted to play for the Clippers. When I ain’t get picked No. 1 or No. 2, the Clippers weren’t gonna pass on me. They picked me anyway, even if I didn’t wanna go there … Q kinda slipped in the draft.

Q: We didn’t think there was an opportunity for us to play together because the projections were so far apart. He was a top-5 projection. I was anywhere from nine to 20. It was a big gap. And neither of us worked out for the Clippers.

D-Miles: After the draft, we hop on a private jet and go to L.A.? I couldn’t have written it no other way.

How did it feel to be together — at 18 and 20 years old — living in Los Angeles?

D-Miles: We didn’t live close to each other…But we was with each other, shittttt, every day probably.

NBA guard Quentin Richardson (right) of the Los Angeles Clippers and his teammate, guard Darius Miles (left) enjoy a pregame joke before challenging the Sacramento Kings at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. The Kings won, 125-106.

Andrew D Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

This is always the first question you ask guests on the Knuckleheads podcast. Who was the first player in the league to bust your ass?

D-Miles: The first one to really give me a lot of buckets was Chris Webber. He was jumping hooking my ass to death. I think he had like 35 or 36. I felt like, I at least got 28 or 30 of them points. Seem like he was scoring every time he got the ball on me.

Writer’s note: On Jan. 27, 2001, Sacramento Kings power forward Chris Webber scored a game-high 33 points and 11 rebounds against the Clippers and a 19-year-old D-Miles, who finished the night with a team-high 16 points.

QR: This was early in my rookie year … I think it was in preseason. We’re out in Denver. This was the first time about to go deal with the altitude. The player was Voshon Lenard. You’re like, Who is VoShon Lenard? I knew he could play. I knew he could hoop, but I was being disrespected out there. The first timeout came at six minutes, I came and sat down … matter fact, D-Miles and Keyon [Dooling] was sitting on the bench. They looked at me and just started laughing. My man had the quickest 17 points I’m talking about in the first six minutes, though … Firing my ass up! Giving me post work … hitting 3s … pump fake, one-dribble pullup. He was cooking my ass. And I was dead tired … But I did get him back! He was on the team when I got career-high against the Nuggets on New Year’s Eve [in 2003]. I had 44 on they ass.

“We thought we was Hollywood, boy!”

You two have probably told this story a million times — but how exactly did you two land with the Jordan Brand?

QR: One of the best moments ever. If anybody knows MJ, you know about his Flight School camp for kids. And they would have some epic counselor games … Flight School used to be held at UC-Santa Barbara … two weeks … two sessions. When I went when I was in college, they brought Darius because he was one of the top high school players. We were both counselors. It was our first time going. Fast-forward to after we get drafted by the Clippers, we’re in L.A., which is an hour [by car] from Santa Barbara. When August comes, we’re like, ‘Man, we’re gonna go out there to the Jordan camp …’ because the runs used to be really good … At this point we had no Nike deal, but AND1 was courting us really hard. They had Larry Hughes, and a few guys we looked up to. We were rocking a whole bunch of AND1. After we get through playing pickup, MJ looked at us like … ‘Why y’all got all this AND1 stuff on? I thought y’all was Nike guys.’ Me and D-Miles were like, ‘We wanna be Nike guys…but a contract ain’t happened.’ He was like, ‘Don’t even worry about it. Y’all gon’ be with us.’ We didn’t even know quite what that meant.’ Because Jordan Brand wasn’t what it was going to be. He just had the first years of it with Ray Allen, Derek Anderson, Eddie Jones, Vin Baker and Michael Finley … Then our agent Jeff Weschler was like, ‘I don’t know what happened, but Michael called up Nike and you guys are gonna be with him on some special team.’ We started getting flooded with the most gear you could imagine. Today they don’t give the same amount of gear they used to give. We got everything they made … Stuff that you wouldn’t wear, stuff that you have to give away because it was so much. We were literally in heaven.

What were favorite Jordans to play in?

D-Miles: Mine were the patent leather 11s … I watched Jordan my whole life, so when we had the opportunity to put them patent leathers on, I was just on superstar status. Nobody else in the league were really wearing these.

QR: We wasn’t those kids that were fortunate enough to have every pair of Jordans. My first pair I ever had came when I played AAU … My pops…the most expensive pair of shoes he was gonna buy me that were cool were Air Force 1s because they were $49.99 back then. My pops didn’t believe in buying Jordans that he knew I’m about to run through in two days … So for us to start getting Jordans? It was out of this world. Coming from Chicago and East St. Louis, being MJ fans, watching everything he did on WGN and public TV — for us, it was a dream. And every kid we knew from our hometowns were like, ‘I can’t believe y’all are on Team Jordan.’ And we could give all our friends, our family, our parents all the Jordan stuff they wanted … That was almost better than money to us at that point.

Do you still have a lot of your old Jordan PEs?

D-Miles: I just have a few. I left and went to Reebok, and I was under Allen Iverson’s line. Most of the Jordans I had, I gave them to these two kids. One was from Texas, and the other was from Memphis. My momma kinda built a rapport with they moms, and they was like me — young kids wearing a size 18 … So they didn’t have no options for shoes. So me and my mom shipped them out, I wanna say 40-50 pairs of shoes apiece. When my mom did it, all three moms were on the phone boo-hoo crying.

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DMiles Cavs Retro PEs 🔥🔥🔥🔥

A post shared by @ qrich on May 2, 2018 at 7:54am PDT

What’s your favorite PE?

QR: Awww, man. That’s hard for me to say … I was fortunate enough to play for teams that weren’t close to the Bulls colors. So a lot of my shoes were different. I think I would have to go with my Clippers, Knicks and Suns PEs … So I probably would go with the Knicks 2s or 5s. But then my favorite pair of shoes to play in — it didn’t really matter which color — were the Retro 13s. I have those is Phoenix and Orlando colors. The Phoenix ones I had different flavors. I had purple and white ones, I had orange and white ones, I had all-black with orange trim. Those 13s, were the most comfortable shoe for me to play in, because they’re wide and I got wide, flat feet.

D-Miles: Mine are the ones I wore in that picture with Udonis Haslem. I was so used to seeing red and white shoes when I was with the Clippers. But I got to the Cavs, it was different colors. When they sent me those bright orange ones, I loved them. You don’t even know.

QR: I’m telling you — the orange did something! They looked superdifferent than any Jordan you’d ever seen. Back then, you’d never seen an orange Jordan.

You two appeared in a commercial for the Air Jordan 17. What comes to mind when you think of that shoot?

D-Miles: Spike Lee. We grew up on Jordan and all the Jordan commercials. When we heard Spike Lee was finna do it, when knew it was a big, big deal.

QR: We thought we was Hollywood, boy!

Writer’s note: The Air Jordan 17, crafted by African-American footwear designer Wilson Smith, drew inspiration from the “improvisational nature of jazz.” The 30-second, Spike Lee-directed spot, featured Miles and Richardson playing maestro on the court, and debuted a special remix the Gang Starr track “Jazz Thing,” which the hip-hop duo originally co-wrote with saxophonist Branford Marsalis.

D-Miles: It was an honor. A real, true blessing. Spike is such a legendary director, and it was with Jordan Brand.

“Like how you see NBA players now. It’s hard for them to let themselves go, because they don’t want nobody to take what they say the wrong way, or their actions be misconstrued.”

QR: It was like, ‘We’re about to have our own Jordan commercial … We really have arrived.’ Me and my bro, together, in a commercial … We went to New York to do it. You get there, and it’s like, ‘Spike Lee is shooting it! … Marsssss is shooting it! This is epic.’ We had our own trailers. They got the gear laid out for us. That was the first time I thought, ‘I’m a star … We some stars up in here, boy!’ This was all new to us. Stuff that you dreamed about as a kid. But to actually live it, it was super dope.

D-Miles: Then to hear Spike Lee, when we first met him, say ‘D and Q.’ Like, ‘Oh, he knows us.’

Forward Darius Miles #21 of the Los Angeles Clippers shoots the ball during the NBA game against the Boston Celtics at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. The Celtics defeated the Clippers 105-103.

Andy Bernstein/NBAE/Getty Images

And you can’t forget the Jump Men cover of Slam Kicks

QR: I have a copy up in my office.

D-Miles: Back then, Kicks was big. There were other magazines that were bigger, but we were just happy to do anything with anybody who wanted to mess with us. We came straight from the streets, so we dressed a certain type of way. Of course, they were giving us drip, we put it on. We weren’t the typical people wearing that gear. We turned the jerseys backwards, do-rags on, hats cocked …

QR: I got a do-rag, with a headband on, hat to the back. I got a pinky ring on! We both got big ass chains on. We were Allen Iverson’s babies. We were A.I.’s lil bros. That was the culture. That was what was going on. That was part of why people took to us. We were them — kids. We were 18 and 19, playing in a grown man’s league, representing other 18- and 19-year-olds. We dressed like them and did things like they did. We were trying to get into Hollywood clubs. We were too young, couldn’t get in … Literally, we showed up to training camp with Super Soaker guns. Media day, the first day of training camp, and we have those big ass Super Soakers strapped over our shoulders. They looked at us like, ‘What the hell is going on?’ … We were having fun, for real. And the best part about it was we were on this adventure together. Doing things that we never could’ve dreamed of. We got to spend New Year’s at Shaquille O’Neal’s house. And it was crazy. Like a fucking movie. We’re at Shaq’s big ass crib in L.A. To kick it with Shaq and be around him was enough … But Shaq was really rocking with us. He was showing us a good time and embracing us. Like, this is Shaq!

We turned the jerseys backwards, du-rags on, hats cocked …”

Where did that style come from — especially the backwards jerseys?

D-Miles: Kriss Kross started it, but that was just hip-hop culture. We grew up in hip-hop culture. The trend had kinda died down, because Kriss Kross did it in the early ’90s. Nobody was really taking chances, especially during photo shoots, except for Allen Iverson. We were young. Didn’t really care what people thought about us. It’s real traditional when you do photo shoots. They tell you to put your hands on your hips, like you’re a superhero. Put one hand on your hip, hold the ball on the other side. I used to be like, ‘Nah … ’

What was your relationship like with MJ during his last few years in the league?

D-Miles: Once MJ came back to the league [in 2001], we’d already known him for six or seven years, and it was a blessing. I love when I see the picture of me standing on the court next to Michael Jordan. I got that in my house. Those moments, those games we played against him, I’ll cherish them forever. We were on a West Coast team, so we only played him two times a year. But those times we played them those last two seasons? It was a dream come true.

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Me and the GOAT#tbt

A post shared by Darius Miles (@blackking.21) on Oct 25, 2018 at 2:02pm PDT

July 30, 2002: D-Miles, that’s when you got traded from the Clippers to the Cavaliers.

D-Miles: One of the worst days of my life. I ain’t wanna leave, or play with nobody else. I didn’t know how good I had it until I got traded. The crazy thing about it is when I did get traded, I was doing the movie The Perfect Score. I was all the way in Vancouver, when I heard the news like, ‘What?’ It wasn’t a good feeling. But I did understand the move. I loved Andre Miller. He led the league in assists on the worst team in the NBA. So I understand why the Clippers traded for him. But, I wanted to stay.

Writer’s note: The Clippers traded Miles and power forward Harold Jamison to the Cleveland Cavaliers in exchange for point guard Andre Miller and shooting guard Bryant Stith.

QR: We were kids. We were having all this fun. And that was the first time it was like, ‘This is a business … This is real … This ain’t a game or haha fun.’ … I love Andre Miller to this day, but I didn’t want that trade to happen. I was upset. I was mad. I was hurt.

We didn’t even want to go to the Clippers … I don’t think anybody wanted to play for the Clippers.”

Can you pinpoint an NBA friendship quite like D-Miles and Q since you guys?

D-Miles: A lot of guys didn’t grow up together like we did. We were around each other when we didn’t have money. One of the bonds I do see that’s close to what me and Q got is Udonis Haslem and D-Wade. They’ve played so long together that they got that brotherly love like me and Q got. They changed that culture in Miami.

QR: They’ve been together for so long on the same team and same journey. And I don’t even count when D-Wade left. Let’s just throw that whole Chicago and Cleveland window out …

D-Miles: When did that happen!?!

QR: UD and D-Wade played their whole 15, 16 year careers together. They came in, got married, had families, brought kids up at the same time, have businesses together. They rebuilt that organization. But I’ve known Darius since he was in seventh grade, and I was in ninth grade. We got drafted together, played together and now 20 years later, we’re doing a podcast because we’re still tight like that.

Quentin Richardson of the Los Angeles Clippers dunks against the Charlotte Hornets at the Staples Center on Jan. 5, 2001.

Robert Mora/NBAE via Getty Images

How’s it feel to be reunited on the Knuckleheads podcast — and why was now the right time for it?

QR: The thing that makes the podcast is so dope, is it happened organically, almost accidentally. I did my story with The Players’ Tribune. He did his story with The Players’ Tribune. A third party was like, ‘Y’all should do something together.’ And D-Miles, he was originally opposed to the whole media thing. He was like, ‘I don’t want no microphones in my face.’ I’m moving into the media space, so I was open to it. We did a trial demo here on my patio, and it was cool.

D-Miles, is it weird being on the other side now — asking the questions instead of answering them?

D-Miles: It’s definitely weird. I’m not sure if I’d do too much more after this. Like Q said, I’m not big on microphones or cameras. I gotta feel comfortable to let my personality go. Kinda like how you see NBA players now. It’s hard for them to let themselves go, because they don’t want nobody to take what they say the wrong way, or their actions be misconstrued. So you kinda got your guard up. With the podcast, I can kinda let go, laugh, joke and not worry.

QR: We’re tryna spark a real conversation. We don’t feel like we’re going to interview this person, that person. We feel like we’re about to see what’s up with this person and that person.

“Udonis Haslem and D-Wade. They’ve played so long together that they got that brotherly love like me and Q got. They changed that culture in Miami.”

Are there any players you really want to get on the podcast?

D-Miles: Michael Jordan.

QR: That’s the GOAT. That’s our unicorn. But we got a lot of other players already committed that we can’t really share right now. We have some really, really, really big and good names … for season two.

What do you think you two have meant to basketball, and the culture, in the past two decades?

D-Miles: We carved out our space. I think that’s why we get the love and the respect that we get now. It’s overwhelming, and I’m definitely thankful and blessed to even have that. I only played two years with the Clippers, but every time people see me, they associate me with being a Clipper. I think it’s dope.

QR: I’m just superhumbled … I appreciate all the love, respect and support we get, from people who rocked with the Clippers. And we also get a lot of people that talk to us about the fact that we had that little bitty part in Van Wilder. It’s unbelievable to me how many people acknowledge that … To still be able to do stuff with D twenty years later, and they still remember us? People still remember that celebration, and still rock with it. That’s really cool to me.

This interview has been edited for clarity and length.

Stylist and sneaker designer Aleali May on Jordans, Maya Moore, Kawhi — and California love ‘Girls have always been sneakerheads … but we’re starting to get noticed, and it’s just the beginning’

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — “When I got a Jordan, we all got a Jordan,” Aleali May told a crowd of sneakerheads at 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend. The we whom the 26-year-old stylist and fashion consultant was referencing? Women.

When May, who has more than 340,000 Instagram followers, collaborated with the Jordan Brand in 2017, she became the first woman to design and drop a unisex sneaker. After she worked for both Louis Vuitton and Virgil Abloh’s Chicago RSVP Gallery, May’s stylish and megapopular “Shadow Satin” Air Jordan 1 paid homage to her South Central Los Angeles roots. The shoe also paved the way for her to team up with four-time WNBA champion Maya Moore, the first female basketball player to sign with the Jordan Brand.

“As far as my style, it’s definitely a mix between streetwear and luxury.”

In December, the women’s-exclusive Maya Moore x Aleali May Court Lux collection was released, featuring new designs of two shoes: Moore’s favorite silhouette, the Air Jordan 10, and May’s second take on the Air Jordan 1.

Through a partnership with eBay during All-Star Weekend, May donated pairs from the Court Lux collection to be sold, with a portion of the proceeds benefiting Project Fit, a charitable organization dedicated to encouraging kids to live an active and healthy lifestyle. The shoes were displayed at a pop-up gallery in Charlotte called The Vault, where May interacted with a group of sneaker enthusiasts and signed pairs for women wearing her Air Jordan 1s. The Undefeated caught up with May to talk personal style, working with legends — and her all-time fave eBay steal.

How long have you been collecting?

My uncle has been buying them from me since I was a little girl and I ain’t know what Jordans was. He was in high school, so he was like, ‘I’m fresh … my niece about to be fresh … we gon’ be fresh together.’ I probably really started collecting when I was in high school because you used to come to school with all the fresh s—. You either had the Jordans or you don’t. So I got my first little job at 16. I was like, ‘I’m gonna spend my money at Foot Locker and Finish Line.’ That’s how it worked. But eBay had such a great platform because you could pick so much from it. I think that was the first place where we were seeing things for resale … Jordans or designer.

What’s the best pair of shoes you’ve ever found on eBay?

Black Cat Air Jordan 4s. I found them a couple years ago. … I actually gotta get them redone because the bottom opened up, but that was a really good find. I got them for, like, $160 in my size. I was like, ‘Ohhh, this is great!’ That’s the best part. You find grails and they’re for a really good price and in your size, that’s rare.

How often are you on eBay?

Honestly, I was on it the day before yesterday … I was looking up vintage Chanel. As far as my style, it’s definitely a mix between streetwear and luxury. A lot of times when I am looking for key luxury pieces, it’s gonna be stuff that’s old, and eBay is the first place I go.

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What’s your grail sneaker?

That’s hard when you have, like, 300 pairs in your closet. I’d probably just say my Black Cat 4s … and the white and forest green 4s. Really like Air Jordan 4s, 8s, 1s. I do have a couple pair of 1985 Air Jordan 1s. When you have shoes older than you, that pretty much solidifies what grail means.

What was it like working on your first Air Jordan 1 collaboration?

That was crazy. It was one meeting in Portland — actually, eight meetings in a day, back to back to back. It was amazing because they were really like, ‘What do you want to do? … What silhouette?’ I was scared. I didn’t wanna say it … but I was like, ‘Jordan 1 … that is what I wear.’ It’s just such a grail shoe. They asked me what I wanted to do with it, and I said, ‘Corduroy … you know, like the Slauson swap meet slippers.’ I just really wanted to incorporate my city in the shoe and be able to represent that because I felt like L.A., we didn’t have our own Jordan. The process was just amazing. They were open to the idea and the story. I had no idea it was gonna take off the way it did.

And what was the goal for your Court Lux collection with Maya Moore?

The first one was more like the young Aleali, who grew up in South Central. A girl who made it out of the ’hood. The second one highlighted what defined Aleali’s style. You know when you’re in your high school years, a lot of those times you’re like, ‘Who am I?’ … My whole deal was when you had people like Pharrell putting together high-end fashion and streetwear, it was always colorful. I took inspiration from the Viotech Dunk and put it on a Jordan 1 for the ladies. Switched it up. I added a fur tongue that’s removable, wanted people to take my story and add their own to it. And Maya Moore had the Air Jordan 10. It was the first women’s pack. We just really wanted to represent both sides: fashion and basketball. That’s what a Jordan is. These worlds coming together, and two women representing.

What’s your relationship like with Maya?

When we first met, it was … natural. It was the launch for a women’s line. We came in there and it was just like, ‘Yup! Yup!’ … Two women really doing it in their own respective fields. That’s what it’s about, bridging these worlds. With this collaboration, I gained so many fans of Maya’s and vice versa. We’re opening up each other’s worlds to others. She’s just really cool. I’m just happy to be in a room with two GOATs, Jordan and Maya.

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Maya decided to sit out the 2019 season to pursue ministry — how important do you think that decision was to her?

She’s gonna go for it, and no matter what, she’s gonna be undefeated. She already has so many titles. … No matter what, people are going to support her. I really support her.

Who’s the coolest person you’ve seen wearing one of your pairs?

Kawhi Leonard … he had the first ones on. And it’s because he’s from California, and that’s superpersonal for me. I just like how he doesn’t really talk. He’s very low-key. I’m not really the most outgoing person, but my clothes speak for themselves. I feel like, with him wearing those on the sidelines, that just spoke so much about him. Here’s a dude from California, reppin’ the wave. You barely hear anything from him, but he chose to wear my shoe that night. He knows.

“When you have shoes older than you, that pretty much solidifies what grail means.”

What’s next for you sneakerwise?

I’m just trying to represent women in streetwear, women in footwear design, and just those young girls out there who are like, ‘I grew up in a place like South Central. How can I do it too?’

How important is it to illuminate the fact that women are sneakerheads just like men?

It’s natural for a girl to like a pair of shoes, no matter if it’s a heel or a sneaker … and be like, ‘I want to collect these.’ The recognition is the part that’s new. We’ve always been sneakerheads … but we’re starting to get noticed, and it’s just the beginning.

This conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

Michael Jordan visits a North Carolina sneaker store that has a community-based mission ‘When you drop a Jordan, to get MJ to walk through the door … is crazy’

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — There was an inkling that he’d come, but no one knew for sure. We’re talking, after all, about the greatest basketball player of all time. But Michael Jordan arrived bright and early, with coffee in hand, to sneaker boutique Social Status. There in the Plaza Midwood area of his city, Jordan was greeted by store owner James Whitner, who might be just as important to the local community as MJ.

Why? Well, Whitner opened his first sneaker store, Flava Factory, in Charlotte in 2005, a year after a gunshot wound he suffered during a street fight nearly ended his life. By 2007, Whitner had launched Social Status, which has emerged as one of the best shoe and streetwear retailers in the country, having expanded to six more cities: Atlanta; Houston; Greensboro and Raleigh, North Carolina; Pittsburgh; and Tampa, Florida. And now, Social Status has its own Air Jordan, which the man whose name is on it came to see for himself.

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“It wasn’t like a secret, come-through-the-back-and-show-love type of thing,” Whitner said. “He came through the front door, froze and shocked the crowd. You can’t write a release better than that. When you drop a Jordan, to get MJ to walk through the door … is crazy. It goes down in the record books.”

It was three days before the All-Star Game, and folks lined up to cop the limited-edition Social Status x Air Jordan 6, one of several pairs of sneakers released by Jordan Brand for basketball’s biggest weekend. The collection tells the story of Jordan’s journey through his home state, from an Air Jordan 5 in his high school colors to a University of North Carolina-themed women’s Air Jordan 1 and a retro of the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6 that His Airness wore in the 1991 All-Star Game in Charlotte.

“The goal of the shoe was to just celebrate MJ and his legacy.”

The most distinctive of the bunch is without question Social Status’ rendition of the Air Jordan 6, designed with pony hair and reptile print as an homage to Jordan’s “Black Cat” alter ego. It’s a collaboration that’s been years in the making.

“The goal of the shoe was to just celebrate MJ and his legacy,” Whitner said. “Him as the greatest player to play the game means a lot for us. … I felt like we needed to wave a flag for the city through MJ.” With the superspecial Air Jordan 6, Social Status delivered quite the tribute to Jordan, whom Whitner first met in 2015 while helping Jordan’s son Marcus open Trophy Room, a boutique in Florida inspired by the space at the family’s residence where the Hall of Famer stores his awards.

Conversations began between Social Status and the Jordan Brand about cooking something up for 2017 All-Star Weekend, which was originally scheduled to take place in Charlotte but was moved to New Orleans because of the NBA’s objection to North Carolina’s House Bill 2 that limited anti-discrimination protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. By May 2017, the NBA announced that the game would return to Charlotte in 2019.

Jordan Brand

“The delay gave us time to create a better experience,” Whitner said. “We’re in constant conversation with the brand about how to engage the kids, the community, and stay ahead of things.”

The experience Whitner envisioned started with the release of the Social Status x Air Jordan 6, which sold out online in 14 minutes on Feb. 13. The next day, when Jordan made an appearance at the store, reservation slots to purchase the shoes opened on Nike’s SNKRS App and filled swiftly. But Whitner wanted more accessibility for the people of the Queen City.

“We wanted … to make sure everybody was treated fairly,” he said. Since the original release, Social Status has restocked the shoe online multiple times. “We held pairs over the weekend … so people could still touch, see and feel the product. … The new world of retail is connected to the consumer and connected in the community.”

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Whitner also opened his store to host a design workshop for students from Charlotte within the Jordan Brand’s Wings Program. Since 2015, the initiative has provided more than 225 kids who experience financial barriers to pursuing higher education with full rides to their colleges of choice. For the workshop at Social Status, the Jordan Brand commissioned one of the most talented designers in the world, Dominic Ciambrone, who is known as The Shoe Surgeon.

The kids were also surprised by appearances from a pair of Jordan Brand athletes, LaMarcus Aldridge of the San Antonio Spurs and Blake Griffin of the Detroit Pistons. The two All-Stars joined members of the Wings Program at tables and participated in the Shoe Surgeon-led session, which involved sneaker deconstruction and sewing machine practice.

“We’ve focused a lot on the process of design. Without the process you’ll never get to where you’re going, just like in life,” Ciambrone told students during the workshop. Afterward, they were each presented with a custom pair of the newly released “Infrared” 6s. Ciambrone also encouraged the students to pick the brains of the two NBA superstars.

“Events where you get to interact with kids … they just want to have real conversations. They ask you real questions,” Griffin said. “It’s cool to speak to kids at this level and hopefully say one thing that might inspire them or make them want to keep going on the right path.”

After first signing with the Jordan Brand as a rookie in 2012, Griffin extended for another two years last fall. Aldridge has been a part of the team since 2014. “When you join the brand, you put yourself on a higher level. You hold yourself to a higher standard because MJ is the best,” Aldridge said. “We have kids that follow us and look up to us. … If you have a chance to impact their lives, help them be more positive or have a good day, that’s our job. And the Jordan Brand supports us in any way possible.”

Jordan and his brand also support people like Whitner. During 2019 All-Star Weekend, 15 years after a near-death experience that was due to gun violence, he became the first recipient of the Wings Changemaker Award.

“I thank God, sometimes three times a day,” Whitner said. “Today was probably six or seven. It’s surreal to have the opportunities that I have now. I always wanna connect to the younger kids because I wanna find the kid that was me at that age in times when I was probably in my most desperate phases in life and didn’t understand my options. I want to be able to let kids know that there are options, regardless of what walk of life you come from. For me, it’s amazing. I’m incredibly blessed.”

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Whitner received a certificate similar to the one given to Wings students when they’re awarded their scholarships, as well as the first pair of the exclusive “Wings” Air Jordan 4s. They will not be for sale but instead are used to honor people who give back to their respective communities.

“The shoe is amazing … but I can’t wear it! I need two pairs — one to display and one to rock,” Whitner said. “But bigger than the shoe is the commitment I’ve received from the brand … everyone down from MJ … and the leadership to continue to help build experiences and serve the consumer. That means more to me than any tangible object they can give me. … This is the first of many things we have to come.”

The 23 hottest sneaker sightings of 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend LeBron, Hamidou Diallo, Dame Lillard, D-Wade — pro basketball’s best raised the bar high

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It was 2019 NBA All-Star Weekend, and the Queen City was transformed into a mecca of sneakers. Customs were commissioned and executed for athletes, celebrities and even a coach, utilizing every concept and color imaginable. And the bar for player-exclusive (PE) sneakers reached new heights of design and storytelling.

Kawhi Leonard debuted his first New Balance shoe. Puma released its second on-court sneaker of the NBA season, continuing to prove that the brand’s return to basketball is in full effect. Adidas channeled Charlotte’s rich racing history on kicks for Damian Lillard, James Harden and Kyle Lowry. The young Hamidou Diallo leapt over Shaquille O’Neal all the way to the Slam Dunk Contest trophy in a fresh pair of Under Armours that repped his upbringing. And as for Chinese sneaker giant Li-Ning, the company sent Dwyane Wade out in style in the final All-Star Game of his career. The weekend also delivered the long-awaited drop of the Adapt BB — Nike’s first auto-lacing performance basketball sneaker.

Meanwhile, the Swoosh made the sneaker world bow down to heat fit for a King — on LeBron James’ feet. And of course, in Hornets owner Michael Jordan’s city, the Jordan Brand showed out with an extensive All-Star collection featuring the retro release of the iconic “Infrared” Air Jordan 6, which MJ wore in 1991, the last time Charlotte hosted the All-Star Game. In honor of the GOAT, whose 56th birthday fell on the same day of the 68th edition of the NBA All-Star Game, these are the top 23 pairs of sneakers spotted by The Undefeated throughout the weekend.


Adidas

Damian Lillard’s dame 5 PE

Damian Lillard’s shoes during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game on Feb. 17 at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

James Harden’s harden Vol. 3 PE

The sneakers of James Harden of Team LeBron before the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Kyle Lowry’s marquee Low Boost Low PE

Kyle Lowry’s All-Star sneakers. Joe Murphy/NBAE via Getty Images

Jordan

Russell Westbrook’s “All-Star” Jordan Why Not Zer0.2

The sneakers worn by Russell Westbrook of Team Giannis during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. Photo by Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Blake Griffin in the “Infrared” Air Jordan 6

Blake Griffin of Team Giannis sits at his locker during the 2019 NBA All-Star practice and media availability Saturday at Bojangles’ Coliseum in Charlotte, North Carolina. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Kemba Walker’s steve Wiebe x Air Jordan 10 PE

Kemba Walker’s shoes for the 2019 NBA All-Star Game. Tom O’Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

Dawn Staley’s Air Jordan 1 Custom by the original Shoe Chef

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Lamarcus Aldridge in the travis Scott Air Jordan 33

LaMarcus Aldridge wears his shoes during Saturday’s 2019 NBA All-Star practice and media availability. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Shareef O’neal’s “ultra instinct” Air Jordan 10 Custom by Sierato

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“Wings” Air Jordan 4

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Li-Ning

dwyane wade’s Way of Wade All City 7 Custom by Solesbysir

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New Balance

Kawhi LeonArd’s oMN1s pe

Kawhi Leonard’s New Balance sneakers. Tom O’Connor/NBAE via Getty Images

Nike

Kyle Kuzma’s adapt bb pe

Luka Doncic’s Kobe 4 Protro PE

The sneakers of Luka Doncic of the Dallas Mavericks on display in the locker room Saturday night at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina. Juan Ocampo/NBAE via Getty Images

Quavo’s KD 11 & PG 3 Custom by Mache

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Kyrie Irving’s rOKIT Kyrie 5

Kyrie Irving’s All-Star Game sneakers. Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

Lebron JAmes’ “Safari” LeBron 16

Sneakers worn by LeBron James during the 2019 NBA All-Star practice and media availability at Bojangles’ Coliseum. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Ronnie 2K’s Air More Uptempo by the Shoe Surgeon and Sean Wotherspoon

“Watch the Throne” LeBron 16

The sneakers on the feet of LeBron James during the 2019 NBA All-Star Game at the Spectrum Center in Charlotte, North Carolina, on Sunday night. Nathaniel S. Butler/NBAE via Getty Images

Puma

Uproar

Under Armour

Hamidou diallo’s m-tag low custom by lcs

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Joel Embiid’s Anatomix Spawn custom by Dez customz and kreative custom kicks

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P.J. Tucker: ‘First debit card I ever had was because of eBay so I could buy shoes’ At NBA All-Star Weekend, the Rockets forward partnered with eBay for charity

CHARLOTTE, North Carolina — For Houston Rockets forward P.J. Tucker, when it comes to shoes, patience is a virtue, and persistence is key. He’s the NBA’s biggest sneakerhead — and it’s not even close. His collection is in the thousands — plural — because he’s always in search of grails and gems in his size 14.

During the 2017-18 NBA season, Tucker spent $200,000 on sneakers, and wore 106 different pairs on the court in 99 games. Throughout the 2018 playoffs alone, he rotated between 22 pairs in 17 games. This season, his sneaker reign has continued in expansive fashion all the way up to the 2019 NBA All-Star break. This weekend, Tucker, along with other sneaker connoisseurs, such as international stylist Aleali May, YouTube/social media influencer Jacques Slade and customizer Kickstradomis, partnered with eBay to sell pairs of sneakers from his collection for charity. He donated a pair of exclusive “friends and family” Nike Air Fear of God 1s, a signed of his first player exclusive (PE) Nike Hyperdunk X, as well as one of his signed NBA jerseys and a basketball signed by the entire Rockets team.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of the sneakers and memorabilia will benefit Project Fit, an organization that creates new opportunities for kids to be active, fit and live a healthy lifestyle. eBay also collaborated with Highsnobiety to create a pop-up sneaker gallery called “The Vault,” which featured shoes on display from a wide range of collectors. The Undefeated sat down at The Vault with Tucker, who discussed being the NBA’s “Sneaker King,” how he tracks down pairs, and that time Michael Jordan asked him, “Where’d you get those?”


How useful has eBay been on your sneaker collector journey?

I don’t know anybody that buys more shoes on eBay than me. My college teammate and one of my best friends in life, Royal Ivey, is a big shoe guy. At Texas, he used to always be on eBay. I had no idea what eBay was. He’d get packages. Shoes would just show up … I was like, ‘Oh, my God … ’ And back then, you could really find crazy gems on eBay. I actually went to the bank and got a debit card so I could get an eBay account and buy shoes. My first debit card … was because of eBay, so I could buy shoes.

What’s the best pair of shoes you’ve ever found on eBay?

Ooooohhhhh … now, that’s tough. It’d be something old. I like eBay because I can always find old gems. I spend hours and hours just scrolling on eBay. I found the original Stash Air Force 1 [released in 2003; only 1,000 pairs were made]. Deadstock, everything … with the case, all the bells and whistles. And to find a 13 in those is impossible. But I found them on eBay. That’s probably the most hype I’ve ever been about getting a shoe.

How often are you looking for shoes?

Every day … I’m looking for shoes right now. I just answered a text message from a guy that does a lot of my buying and selling … It never stops, man. It’s 24 hours a day. It’s part of my life. I just love sneakers. It’s just something that I do unconsciously every day.

Whose sneaker collection do you respect the most?

My favorite sneakerhead is DJ Clark Kent — without a doubt. Clark, his influence on sneakers, and how natural it is? From Day One, he’s been one of the avid sneaker guys. I love how he kind of does everything. He does every brand. And he knows the heat … He’s just one of those pioneers.

What’s the weirdest way you’ve ever procured a pair of sneakers?

Yooo … some of these collectors. … are superweird. I remember one guy, he didn’t want to do PayPal … He was like, ‘Only cash.’ And he didn’t want me to know who he was. He showed up with his wife and his daughter and stayed in the car. His wife and daughter got out and brought me the shoes. They made the transaction. He’s the most top-secret guy I’ve ever met in my life.

Do you go pick up shoes yourself?

Yeah … all the time. Even my eBay account is me.

Really … ?

Yeah, it’s pjtucker. People are like, ‘Is this really you, P.J.?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, it’s me, dog … I appreciate it.’

We’re in Charlotte for All-Star. It’s Michael Jordan’s city. In 2016, you shocked M.J. by breaking out a pair of super rare Shawn Marion Air Jordan 5 player exclusives.

Mannnn, it was about the timing of that … A friend of mine who had them — both of them, the black ones and the white ones — contacted me. It was right before we played the Hornets here. It was crazy. It was a no-brainer to be able to wear them then. He was like, ‘Yo, where’d you get those?’ I kind of just gave them the shrug, like, ‘I don’t know.’

P.J. Tucker (left) of the Phoenix Suns goes to the basket wearing a pair of rare Shawn Marion Air Jordan 5 PEs on March 1, 2016, at Time Warner Cable Arena in Charlotte, North Carolina. Kent Smith/NBAE via Getty Images

So how exactly did you get them?

A friend of a friend of a friend that knew a friend who had them. I had heard that Shawn didn’t even get them. He was trying to figure out his situation with Nike. To have those, deadstock right there, was crazy. It was a fun experience.

Is there a pair you’ve always wanted but never been able to find?

Yes … The Supreme SB Blazers. I got a bunch of them in a 13 but they fit like an 11.5. But I know there are some 14s out there. I’ve been trying to find them every chance I get. I love that sneaker. I’m still searching for those. … What else? Oh … I’m bugging. The friends and family Amsterdam Parra [it’s speculated that only 200-250 pairs were made]. Those joints are No. 1 on my list. I’ve been trying to get those forever. They’re impossible to find. I found a 12 deadstock. But way too small. I need a 14 in those. Maybe 13, but 14 for sure.

What do you like most about PEs?

Bigger than anything, it’s about the individuality of them. For me having my own now, it’s about picking those colorways surrounding how I’m feeling and what I wanted at the time.

Which players are on your Mount Rushmore of PEs?

Yo, that is a great question … I’m gonna mess you up, because it ain’t gonna be who you think. No. 1 is easy: Ray Allen. No. 2, Derek Anderson. No. 3 … Chris Paul … And then Kobe. There’s nothing like Kobe PEs.

How special is collecting sneakers to you?

It’s bigger than just sneakers. As a kid, I just always worked hard to be able to make my mom happy so she would buy me shoes. It was so much more than the actual shoes. It taught me a lot, too, because I had to take care of my shoes. I wore shoes, took them off and cleaned them. So the next time when I put them on, I was already ready to go. Because I knew I wasn’t getting another pair … you know what I’m saying? Shoes taught me how to be a man, in a way. Growing up, and being an adult, you gotta take care of your stuff.

Do you like being the ‘Sneaker King’ of the NBA?

That’s not something I talk about or push … Because when you look over the years, I wore exclusive PEs when I was in Phoenix … way more than now. I was wearing crazy PEs, and nobody ever knew. Sole Collector would probably post something every once in a while, but not many people knew. It’s just something, my whole life, I’ve always done. Sneaker King? Ahhh, whatever. It’s cool. I just do me, you know?

Stay tuned for another Q&A from The Vault with international stylist Aleali May on her two Air Jordan collaborations, her relationship with Maya Moore and the importance of female sneakerheads.

LeBron’s chess moves, Westbrook vs. Embiid: The 8 NBA All-Star storylines to follow Will Quavo be Celebrity Game MVP? Will Ric Flair be courtside?

Professional sports’ premier soap opera is the NBA, and it invades Charlotte, North Carolina, this weekend for its 68th All-Star Game. But narrowing things to just the game is a disservice to the infinite dramatic possibilities of the weekend: Thursday through Sunday is an amalgamation of the NBA and pop culture so thorough that no other major American sports league could ever hope to measure up. What makes the NBA the melodramatic provocateur it is are the dramas. Some are obvious. Some aren’t. Some are, at best, are truly just pipe dreams. The following eight stories could spice up an already very hot weekend.


One: The All-Star method to LeBron’s All-Star madness

For LeBron James, this year’s All-Star draft was a riveting moment in a career filled with them. As fate, and Giannis Antetokounmpo’s draft strategy would have it, James’ gang is chock-full of soon-to-be free agents — and Anthony Davis, who, unless you’ve been living under a rock the last two weeks or so, you’ve heard has requested a trade — preferably to Los Angeles. While the Lakers came up short in the Davis sweepstakes, Los Angeles, and in particular James and agent Rich Paul, received backlash for what many, including LaVar Ball, dubbed as destroying whatever chemistry the Lakers had left. An improbable Rajon Rondo game-winner in Boston has temporarily quelled critics, but a 23-point dump trucking in Philly brought L.A. back to earth and staring in the face of what will be a race to eighth after the All Star break — if they hope to make the playoffs. So best believe James is using All-Star Weekend for business far beyond just the next few weeks of this season. One would be safe to bet a lot of general managers around the league are none too happy about James’ public chess moves.

Bonus: Just like Dwyane Wade, we’re all looking forward to that final lob he tosses up to James. A fitting swan song to one of the game’s all-time great friendships.

Two: Westbrook and Embiid: reunited — and it doesn’t feel so good

Instagram Photo

By far the funniest moment of the entire All-Star draft was the trade that sent Russell Westbrook to Team Giannis and Ben Simmons to Team LeBron. On the surface, it’s James getting his fellow Klutch brethren in Simmons. But the trade really matters for one reason — and one reason only. Westbrook and Joel Embiid, two of the NBA’s most beloved personalities, are now forced to be teammates.

But, Westbrook and Embiid aren’t fond of each other. At all. The drama began in December 2017 during a triple overtime instant classic between the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers. When the Sixers and Thunder squared off, Embiid waved goodbye to Steven Adams and Westbrook — after each fouled out. Oklahoma City ultimately won, leaving Westbrook to return the favor by waving at Embiid. Fast-forward to last month: In another Thunder win, Embiid landed on Westbrook following a blocked shot attempt. Embiid said it wasn’t on purpose. Westbrook believed otherwise. When asked if the two were cool off the court, Westbrook kept it funky. “F— no.” When asked what the issue between the two was, Embiid’s was sarcastic. “I don’t why he was so mad. I have no idea,” the Sixers superstar said. “But he’s always in his feelings, so I have no idea.” Seeing these two on the court at the same time should be absolute comedy. Will they play nice? Or will they freeze each other out? We won’t have to wait long to see them square off again as opponents, though. The Sixers travel to Oklahoma City on Feb. 28, where they hope to get a win versus the Thunder for the first time in 11 years.

Three: Ric Flair, Charlotte’s (Un]official Ambassador

To be the man, you gotta [honor the man at All-Star Weekend]…

OK, so that’s not exactly how the quote goes, but the truth remains the same. Of all the celebrities linked to Charlotte, there is but one who sits at the mountaintop. In a perfect world, Richard Morgan Fliehr, known to the world as Ric Flair, would be front and center at All-Star Weekend festivities. Flair’s wild life has been documented most recently with the critically acclaimed 30 for 30 Nature Boy. There will be many black music stars and fans in town for All-Star, most notably Meek Mill and J. Cole, who are headlining the official halftime show, and hip-hop loves Flair. Think 2012’s “We Ball” with Dom Kennedy and Kendrick Lamar. Think of 2018’s Offset, 21 Savage and Metro Boomin’s “Ric Flair Drip” the video that actually starred the former world champion. There’s a possibility Offset could be in town — Charlotte’s just a stone’s throw from Atlanta — and a reunion of sorts could take place. Nevertheless, Flair is a prime candidate for unofficial All-Star Weekend ambassador. Hope he’ll rock a “Free 21 Savage” shirt.

There’s also this: So much of Flair’s DNA is visible in current NBA All-Stars. James’ obsession for the dramatic is as must-see-TV as Flair. Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson’s threat from 3 is as crippling as Flair’s figure-four leg-lock. Westbrook’s fashion sense — need more be said? Also Flair is an undeniable fan favorite on a lifetime victory lap akin to Dwayne Wade and Dirk Nowitzki. Charlotte shouldn’t just want Flair courtside for Sunday’s game. Charlotte needs Flair courtside for Sunday’s game.

Four: Can Quavo go back-to-back into the Celebrity Game record books?

Quavo, reigning Celebrity Game MVP, looks to join Terrell Owens and Kevin Hart as the only players to be named most valuable more than once. Hart, like Young Jeezy and trapping, won it four years in a row. Take away the actual professional basketball players (Ray Allen, A’ja Wilson, Jay Williams), and look at this year’s rosters. Famous Los has already set his sights on the crown, but Quavo will again be the best hooper on the court. Huncho’s silky lefty game is only enhanced by his ability to finish at the rim and get to the free throw line at will — a la James Harden. Also: former Carolina Panthers/future Hall of Fame wide receiver (and one of the all-time great trash talkers in any sport) Steve Smith is on the opposing squad. A Smith-Quavo back-and-forth could be the closest iteration of Harden vs. Draymond Green at All-Star.

Five: Stephen Curry’s Homecoming

The two-time MVP will be a huge part in this weekend’s festivities given his deep and direct ties to the Queen City. His father, Dell, was a sharpshooter for the Charlotte Hornets for 10 seasons. And while Stephen Curry was born in Akron, Ohio (making it one of the most unexpected birthplaces of basketball royalty), Charlotte is where Curry grew up. He attended high school in Charlotte. And because no big-time schools thought much of him, Curry attended Davidson College, about 30 minutes away from downtown Charlotte — and put the school on the basketball map with unparalleled March Madness performances a decade ago. He returns to the city he calls home as the greatest shooter of all time, nearly a surefire lock to obliterate Allen’s all-time 3-point record and future Hall of Famer with three championships (and counting) to his name. Curry and younger brother Seth are both in the 3-point contest, and Curry’s presence in Sunday’s big game has the running narrative of MVP.

Six: Bombs Over Charlotte: A 3-point contest for the ages

There’s reigning champion Devin Booker. There are the aforementioned Curry brothers. Damian Lillard is made for moments like these. Buddy Hield, Joe Harris and Danny Green can all catch fire at a moment’s notice. Khris Middleton, who almost assuredly will have teammate Giannis Antetokounmpo courtside cheering him on. All-Star starter Kemba Walker has home court advantage. And there wouldn’t be an angry person in the world if Nowitzki walked away with the crown. The point being is this: There is no wrong selection here. Just enjoy the light show.

Seven: Happy birthday, Michael Jordan

Michael Jordan turns 56 on Feb. 17, the day of the All-Star Game, and expect the greatest to ever do it to be treated like the royalty he is all weekend long. Jordan’s been waiting for this weekend since 2017, when Charlotte was originally supposed to host the midseason pilgrimage, but due to the discriminatory HB2, known as the “bathroom bill,” Charlotte’s look was postponed. But this year? Here are three Jordan dream scenarios in no particular order:

  1. Similar to James Davis above, I, too, receive an ultra exclusive invite to whatever Saturday night party Jordan is hosting. Bringing my own cigars, Mike and I chop it up about a variety of topics. About how I found the address to his fan club in an old Sports Illustrated Kids. About how I think his “Flu Game” is really his “Hangover Game” — which is no knock on him. It’s actually more impressive.
  2. Someone snaps a picture of Jordan and Bill “I don’t play defense” Murray. While Jordan did most of the work versus the Monstars in Space Jam, let the record show Murray has the most important assist in world history. It’s high time we acknowledge Murray for the hero he is.
  3. Like last year, the game comes down to its final possession. And James, with Jordan courtside, takes the final shot …

Eight: Charlotte ‘Going Bad’ on ’em anyway?

For anyone not familiar with All-Star Weekend, it’s a continuous barrage of parties, sponsored events and open bars. There is, of course, a vital need for music at these events. And if there’s one song most likely to become the unofficial anthem of the weekend, it’s Meek Mill and Drake’s “Going Bad” which officially dropped last week. Sitting at No. 15 on the Billboard Hot 100 as of Feb. 9, don’t be surprised if it jumps a few slots with an expected All-Star push. Meek is of course one of the two headliners for Sunday’s All-Star Game, along with home state titan J. Cole. Meek will also serve as the MC of pregame introductions with his and Drake’s hit likely playing some role in the moment. It’s a nice setup too, for the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association (CIAA), the nation’s oldest historically black college conference. The organization has held its annual basketball tournament in the Queen City since 2004. Because of its residency in Charlotte (which ends next year and is headed to Baltimore in 2021), the city is an annual mecca for celebrities such as 21 Savage, Cardi B, Odell Beckham Jr., Rick Ross, Bria Myles, Lil Wayne, DC Young Fly and more. Last year’s CIAA tournament netted north of $50 million, according to the Charlotte Regional Visitors Authority. This year’s tournament kicks off Feb. 26.

On the 20th anniversary of an iconic Game 6, six facts about the ‘Last Shot’ Air Jordan 14s Was the XIV gang-related? Was the sneaker patented? We have answers

It was a missed shot, not just the most revered game-winner of Michael Jordan’s career, that made the Air Jordan 14 iconic. It began with the final play in Game 5 of the 1998 NBA Finals between the Chicago Bulls and Utah Jazz. With 0.8 seconds remaining on the clock and the Bulls trailing 83-81, head coach Phil Jackson drew up a play to get the ball into the hands of the greatest of all time. A 2-pointer would tie the game and force overtime. Yet, with Chicago leading the series 3-1, a make from beyond the 3-point arc would mean a victory and a championship. Of course, Jordan was going for the win.

The referee handed the ball to the inbounder, Ron Harper, which triggered His Airness to employ an explosive burst from the free-throw line to the sideline. Harper tossed the ball in, and a swift, one-motion move became a 35-foot, off-balance heave. The potential game-winning 3 fell about a foot short, as Jordan landed back on the hardwood in a pair of his signature Air Jordan 13s.

Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls watches his final shot as Bryon Russell of the Utah Jazz looks on during Game 5 of the NBA Finals at the United Center in Chicago on June 12, 1998. Jordan missed the basket, and the Jazz won the game 83-81.

JEFF HAYNES/AFP/Getty Images

The air ball extended the series to a Game 6 at the Delta Center in Salt Lake City, where Jordan wouldn’t miss in crunch time this time around. With 5.2 seconds left in the game, Jordan put a helluva (albeit controversial) move on his defender, Utah’s Bryon Russell, and drained a 20-foot jump shot from the top of the key to give the Bulls an 87-86 lead that would deliver their sixth championship in eight seasons. By January 1999, Jordan would retire for the second time in his career, making the heroic Game 6 jumper his final shot as a member of the Bulls. (Jordan came out of retirement in 2001 to play two seasons for the Washington Wizards.) The ending of the ‘98 Finals also cemented a legacy for the shoes he wore in that moment: a pair of Air Jordan 14s, which have since taken on the nickname “Last Shot.” Had Jordan hit the 3-pointer to win it all in Game 5, the 13s, not the 14s, would’ve become “Last Shot” Air Jordans. But both the basketball and sneaker gods had other plans. In honor of the 20-year anniversary of Game 6, here are six facts about the timeless “Last Shot” Air Jordan 14s.

Had Michael Jordan hit the 3-pointer to win it all in Game 5, the 13s, not the 14s, would’ve become “Last Shot” Air Jordans.

Jordan only wore the 14s in three games

Jordan opened the 1998 Finals on the road in Game 1 against the Jazz in the “Bred” Air Jordan 13s. He began Game 2 in an all-black pair of player-exclusive, low-top 13s (which would never release at retail) before switching back to the traditional mid-top version of the shoe after halftime. In Games 3, 5 and 6, he’d don the Air Jordan 14. Because, if you remember, in Game 5 he returned to the 13 by breaking out the “Playoffs” colorway. By the time of his debut with the Wizards in ‘01, he’d be rocking the “College Blue” Air Jordan 17s.

The shoe was inspired by Michael Jordan’s Ferrari

Michael Jordan leaves the arena in his Ferrari after the Bulls win Game 6 of the 1997 NBA Finals at the United Center in Chicago. The Bulls defeated the Jazz 90-86 to win the series and claim the championship.

On Oct. 27, 1998, a few days before the commercial release of the sneakers that debuted on the court months earlier in the Finals, The Associated Press reported that designer Tinker Hatfield was influenced by the luxury cars Jordan owned, particularly his Ferrari 550 Maranello, when crafting the Air Jordan 14. “He told us directly that we should be looking at automobiles,” Hatfield, Nike’s vice president for design and special projects, told The Associated Press. “He actually suggested that I come out and look at his Ferrari, just to be inspired by it.” Hatfield’s clean and simple design of the 14 includes an air-intake pocket similar to what was found on a Maranello in the late ’90s, as well as the same type of paint and bumper materials implemented in high-end vehicles of that era. The shoes dropped at retail for $150 a pair on Halloween 1998 in a “Candy Cane” white-and-red colorway. The “Last Shot” black-and-red model that Jordan wore in the ‘98 Finals wouldn’t hit stores until March 1999.

The shoe was awarded a landmark patent

According to The Associated Press, the United States Patent and Trademark Office presented Nike with patent No. 400,000 in the governmental agency’s then-(ironically)-23-year history for the sports car-inspired elements incorporated into the Air Jordan 14. A news conference was held to celebrate the occasion.

The 14 quickly became a top 100 sneaker

In December 1998, less than two months after the Air Jordan 14 went on sale, Dallas-based shoe retailer Footaction (acquired by Foot Locker in 2004) unveiled a list of the top 100 athletic shoes of all time. At No. 82 sat the 14, which checked in ahead of notable sneakers such as the Air Jordan 8, the Converse Jack Purcell and the Adidas Powerphase. It’s a testament to how much of an impact the shoes — and the epic shot the greatest of all time made in them — had in the early days of their release, without Jordan even playing in the NBA. It didn’t take long for the 14 to reach cult classic status.

“Michael Jordan, the Jordan Brand and Nike condemn violence and vigorously assert that any Jordan brand product and, specifically, the Air Jordan XIV has no connection to any gang or gang-related activity and is intended for use as a basketball product.” — Statement released in 1999

The shoe falsely became associated with gang-related activity

“Nike has learned from local police departments and school administrators that the Roman numeral ‘XIV’ on this year’s Air Jordan is coincidentally associated by some with a gang based in Northern California. Michael Jordan, the Jordan Brand and Nike condemn violence and vigorously assert that any Jordan brand product and, specifically, the Air Jordan XIV has no connection to any gang or gang-related activity and is intended for use as a basketball product.”

This is an excerpt from a statement released on March 26, 1999, denying any link between the shoe and the Norteños street gangs, which use the No. 14 and Roman numerals XIV as a representation of the 14th letter in the alphabet, “N,” to pay tribute to the Mexican-American organization of prison gangs known as Nuestra Familia.

The 20-year anniversary of Game 6 marks the 14’s third retro

Since the shoe’s original release in 1999, the “Last Shot” Air Jordan 15 has been retroed on three separate occasions: in 2005 for $130, in 2011 for $160 and on Wednesday, in celebration of 20 years since Jordan’s jumper, for $190, as part of Nike’s Art of a Champion collection. Moral of the story: Every sneakerhead’s closet deserves a pair of the Last Shots.

The complete — and insane — list of P.J. Tucker’s 2018 NBA playoff sneakers All 22 pairs — from Cactus Jack Jordans, to custom OFF-Whites, and a trio of Oregon PEs — it’s all here

His reign is already solidified and virtually unchallenged. P.J. Tucker is the NBA’s sneaker king. He has shoes in his collection that hypebeasts can’t even cop, and he actually wears pairs that the biggest sneakerheads in the world wouldn’t even dare to unbox. “With playing basketball and sneakers, there’s no line,” Tucker told Joe La Puma on Complex’s Sneaker Shopping in early March. “If I have them, I’ll play in them.” And, on the huge stage of the NBA playoffs, Tucker didn’t hold back. In Houston’s 17 games during the 2018 postseason, Tucker broke out 22 different pairs of size 14s, while averaging 8.9 points, 6.5 rebounds and shooting 46.7 percent from 3-point range. He wore Jordans, LeBrons, Kobes, KDs, Kyries — you name it. He found sneakers that were only meant to be sported by high school players, and represented on his feet colleges the former University of Texas student never attended. This is the complete list of every shoe P.J. Tucker wore in every Rockets game during the 2018 playoffs.


WESTERn CONFERENCE Quarterfinals vs. MINnesota Timberwolves

Game 1, April 15: Nike LEbron Low “4 Horseman” & Air JOrdan 32 “Rossa Corsa”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 1 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Tucker walked through the tunnel of the Toyota Center before the Rockets’ postseason opener with a pair of “Flu Game” Air Jordan 12s in his left hand. He then warmed up in a pair of “Stealth” Air Jordan 3s. Come game time, he ran up and down the hardwood in two more pairs of kicks: the “4 Horseman” Nike LeBron 3 Lows during the first half and the “Rossa Corsa” Air Jordan 32s during the second half. What a way to start off the playoffs — with four different sneakers.

Game 2, April 18: Air Jordan 4 “Cactus Jack,” Air Jordan 13 “Playoffs”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 2 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 18 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Sitting courtside during Game 2 of the Western Conference quarterfinals, rapper and Rockets superfan Travis Scott, a native of Houston, donned a pair of his own signature shoes, the “Cactus Jack” Air Jordan 4s. On the court, Tucker wore them too. It’s worth noting: The shoes, inspired by the colors of the city’s former NFL franchise, the Houston Oilers, haven’t officially dropped yet — and won’t until late June. But Trav and Tucker debuted the heat, which the Rockets forward wore only briefly. In the second half against Minnesota, he played in a pair of “Playoffs” Air Jordan 13s.

Game 3, April 21: Custom Air Jordan 11 “ACES,” NikE Air Maestro II “Trifecta”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 3 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 21 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

It took only three games for Tucker to break out some custom kicks: a pair of white Air Jordan 11s dubbed the “Aces.” On the heel of the shoes, a red spade replaces the traditional Jumpman logo, and “PJ4” replaces Michael Jordan’s jersey number in the thinly lined, trademark script. Tucker switched his shoes in the locker room at halftime of the road Game 3. This time it was to a pair of “Trifecta” Air Maestro 2s (worn by Scottie Pippen in a triple-double performance in the 1993 NBA Finals) from Nike’s “Art of a Champion” collection.

Game 4, April 23: Nike LeBron 12 Low

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 23 at the Target Center in Minneapolis.

David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images

In Game 4 against Minnesota, for the first time in the playoffs, Tucker wore only one pair of shoes: white, gray and red Nike LeBron 12 Lows. Perhaps he left his second-half sneaks in his hotel room. Or maybe he just got tired of spoiling us with a footwear fashion show.

Game 5, April 25: AIr Jordan 32 “JBC,” Air Jordan 10 “Dark shadow”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the second half of Game 5 against the Minnesota Timberwolves in the first round of the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 25 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

On April 8, Michael Jordan’s billion-dollar company hosted its annual showcase for the nation’s top high school prospects. While competing in the Jordan Brand Classic, young stars wore pairs of player-exclusive (PE) Air Jordan 32s, embossed with “JBC 2018” logos on the midsole and tongue. Tucker is 33 — a decade and a half removed from his prep days at William G. Enloe High in Raleigh, North Carolina. But, somehow, he landed all five pairs of shoes that every JBC player received, including the PE 32s, which he rocked a few weeks after the high school all-star game in a closeout Game 5 win over the Timberwolves. For the second half, he swapped out the 32s for a pair of “Dark Shadow” Air Jordan 10s, which were released on April 20.

Western Conference Semifinals vs. Utah Jazz

Game 1, April 29: Nike Kyrie 1 “WArHAWK”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz during the 2018 NBA playoffs on April 29 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

Before Game 1 of the Western Conference semifinals between the Houston Rockets and Utah Jazz, a photo surfaced of Tucker sitting in his team’s dressing room as he sifted through a huge pile of sneakers and boxes that flowed out of his locker. For the series opener, he decided to throw it back with a pair of “Warhawk” Nike Kyrie 1s, which are inspired by the World War II-era Curtiss P-40 fighter aircraft. The shoes were released in 2015 and were given exclusively to high school and college players who participated in the Nike Basketball Academy in the Barker Hangar at Santa Monica, California’s airport. But of course Tucker got his hands on a pair — because the shoe term “limited edition” means absolutely nothing to him.

Game 2, May 2: Air Jordan 5 “OREGOn” PE, Air Jordan 10 “University REd”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during the first half of Game 2 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Bill Baptist/NBAE via Getty Images

P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets and Donovan Mitchell of the Utah Jazz wrestle for a rebound during Game 2 of the Western Conference semifinals in the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 2 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The University of Oregon — located about two hours south of Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Oregon — is the land of milk and honey when it comes to PEs. Tucker must have a reliable plug on campus, as he’s no stranger to whipping out pairs of shoes that only the university’s athletes, past and present, should have. In Game 2 against the Jazz, he wore a pair of “insanely rare” PE “Oregon” Air Jordan 5s, but only for the first two quarters. In the second half, he sported the “University Red” Air Jordan 10s, a collaboration between the Jordan Brand and famed NBA tattoo artist Steve Wiebe that dropped exclusively at House of Hoops in Harlem, New York, in December 2017. Two pairs of superuncommon shoes in one game. All in a day’s work for Tucker.

Game 3, May 4: Nike Kyrie 4 “Chinese New year”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 3 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 4 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

The Chinese New Year, also known as the Spring Festival, kicked off this year on Feb. 16 and lasted through March 2. But Tucker was still celebrating the Year of the Dog in early May, when he showed off the “Chinese New Year” Nike Kyrie 4s in Salt Lake City for Houston’s first road game of the Western Conference semis. Tucker is a mixologist with the colors of his on-court shoes, often choosing to turn heads instead of matching his uniform. But these kicks, which feature a beautiful red, black and gold floral design on the quarter panel of each shoe, perfectly complement Rockets team colors. Well done, P.J. Well done.

Game 4, May 6: Nike Kd 6 Supreme “D.C. Preheat”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets in Game 4 of the Western Conference semifinals against the Utah Jazz on May 6 at the Vivint Smart Home Arena in Salt Lake City.

Andrew D. Bernstein/NBAE via Getty Images

From the conservative “CNY” Kyrie 4s in Game 3 to the vibrant “D.C. Preheat” Nike KD 6 Supremes in Game 4. Tucker had to go deep in his closet for this pair of Kevin Durant signatures, which first hit the streets in 2013. More proof that his sneaker versatility is crazy.

Game 5, May 8: Nike LeBron 8

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Utah Jazz in the Western Conference semifinals on May 8 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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Why not pay homage to the most dominant player of this year’s playoffs: LeBron Raymone James? With a pair of vintage red-and-black Nike LeBron 8s (which originally released in October 2010), that’s exactly what Tucker did when he and the Rockets sent Donovan Mitchell and the Utah Jazz packing with a Game 5 win that advanced Houston to the Western Conference finals for the first time since 2015.

Western Conference Finals vs. Golden State Warriors

Game 1, May 14: Nike Zoom Kobe 3 “Westchester” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 1 against the Golden State Warriors in the NBA’s Western Conference finals on May 14 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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In 2008, players on the basketball team at Los Angeles’ Westchester High received exclusive red, black and white Nike Kobe 3s. They were personalized for the school, with each shoe’s tongue featuring a “W.” So how did Tucker, who went to high school in North Carolina from 1999-2000, find a pair of these unique Kobes? Perhaps Rockets forward Trevor Ariza, a Westchester graduate, hooked his teammate up. But with Tucker, who really knows? The “Westchester” 3s he wore in Game 1 of the Western Conference finals against the Warriors might just be one of the original pairs. That’s how deep his shoe connections run.

Game 2, May 16: Nike LeBron 15 “Owwhio State” PE

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 2 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 16 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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Tucker is a Longhorn at heart. But in Game 2 vs. Golden State, he was a Buckeye, repping THE Ohio State University in a pair of all-red, player-exclusive Nike LeBron 15s. They were presented to the OSU basketball team last fall as part of James’ everlasting dedication to the school he would’ve attended had he gone to college. Also, don’t forget: We’ve seen Tucker in another colorway of Ohio State LeBron 15 PEs. The first pair, primarily in white, was apparently just the warm-up.

Game 3, May 20: Nike Kyrie 4 “Yellow Lobster”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 3 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 20 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

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In 2009, only 36 pairs of the “Yellow Lobster” Nike SB Dunk Lows were made. Nearly a decade later, Nike paid tribute to the iconic skateboarding sneaker with a bigger, yet still limited, release of the “Yellow Lobster” Kyrie 4s. Before lacing up the kicks in Game 3 against the Warriors, Tucker arrived to Oracle Arena in a magenta suit. He was really in his bag with his style choices that night.

Game 4, May 22: Custom Off-White Nike REact Hyperdunk

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 4 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

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Between Games 1 and 2 of the Western Conference finals, Tucker took to Instagram, where he posted a photo of one-of-a-kind OFF-White Nike React Hyperdunks — the work of sneaker craftsman Dominic Chambrone, aka The Shoe Surgeon. Tucker teased the custom kicks in warm-ups, but they didn’t grace the court until Game 4. To really appreciate the collaboration between Tucker and Chambrone, you have to remember what a normal pair of the OFF-WHITE Hyperdunks look like. Moral of the story: They started out as white and ended up an intoxicating red. A true masterpiece.

Game 5, May 24: Nike LeBron 15 “OREGON” PE (Black)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 5 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 22 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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From afar, Tucker’s Game 5 shoes appeared to be a simple pair of black LeBron 15s. Yet, up close you’ll notice the subtle “O” on the heel tab, which signifies one thing: Oregon. Somebody in the school’s equipment department must really love Tucker.

Game 6, May 26: Nike Lebron 15 “Oregon” pe (Green)

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 6 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals on May 26 at Oracle Arena in Oakland, California.

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In the words of the one and only DJ Khaled, “Another one!” — Tucker’s third pair of Oregon player exclusives in the playoffs. Peep the yellow duck wings design on the midsole of these green beauties. The university might as well hire him to teach “PEs 101.” He’s as well-versed as they come on the topic.

Game 7, May 28: Nike Kobe 4 “Del Sol”

The sneakers of P.J. Tucker of the Houston Rockets during Game 7 against the Golden State Warriors in the Western Conference finals of the 2018 NBA playoffs on May 28 at the Toyota Center in Houston.

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Tucker entered Houston’s home arena before a decisive Game 7 vs. Golden State on Memorial Day carrying a pair of “Grinch” Nike Kobe 6s (the best Christmas Day sneakers in NBA history — and don’t even think about @ing us). But when he and the Rockets stepped foot on the court, with a trip to the 2018 NBA Finals on the line, Tucker had pulled an okey-doke. Instead of the Grinches, he wore “Del Sol” Nike Kobe 4s. Yet he couldn’t quite channel his inner Black Mamba, as the Warriors closed out the 2017-18 season for the Rockets. There’s little doubt, however, that Tucker had the freshest shoes of the night — and of the entire playoffs.